I saw this car at the Pavillions car show in Scottsdale a few years ago. It stopped me cold. Monumentally impressive. There must have been a display sign that described the car and mentioned Dave Holls. I hung around wanting to talk to the fellow that drove the car to the show to find out more about it, but I was losing my light, so wandered off, photography being more important.

Recently Dick Ruzzin commented on the Bugatti project, and mentioned the Lincoln along enough information to track down this article in Hemmings Daily: “You probably know that Dave also designed a special body for a Lincoln.  He had a friend who was Chief Engineer for Ford, Connie Buschard, and it was done for him. The car has the look of the forties with one exception, a low chrome molding.  It was black with a silver hood and deck.  When you opened the door there was a small silver plate on the sill that had the designers name on it, Dave Holls. Dave must have liked what the strong contrast did for the proportions of the cars. Dave loved cars.”

Dave Holls is a household name to Dean’s Garage readers. I worked under him (a few layers down) at GM Design Staff. I didn’t realize at the time how much of a car guy he really was.

The Lincoln that might have been – the David Holls-designed 1932 Model KB Boattail Speedster

By Kurt Ernst, Hemmings Daily September 26, 2016. Photos by Patrick Ernzen, courtesy RM Sotheby’s.

In an alternate universe, Edsel Ford might have commissioned a custom-bodied Lincoln Speedster from Paris, France, carrosserie Hibbard & Darrin, complete with pontoon fenders, a tapered rear deck, and a hood that stretched to the horizon to cover the hot-rodded V-12 beneath it. In this universe, it never happened, yet the car exists, the result of one man’s passion and another man’s flair for design. Next month, this one-of-a-kind 1932 Lincoln Model KB Boattail Speedster heads to auction in Hershey, Pennsylvania, as part of the annual RM Sotheby’s sale.

The genesis of this custom boattail speedster dates to the mid-1990s, when Lincoln collector Greg Bilpuch struck up a conversation with David Holls, the retired vice president director of design for General Motors, and the man who directed the styling of the 1966 Buick Riviera, the 1967 and 1970 Chevrolet Camaros, and the 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Speculating on his “dream Lincoln,” Bilpuch described a car based upon the 12-cylinder Lincoln KB, but clad in a sporty speedster body from coachbuilders Hibbard & Darrin, a creation that, under different circumstances, Edsel Ford himself may have had built.

The thought stuck in Holls’s mind, and the retired designer returned to the drawing board to sketch his interpretation of such a one-off creation. The end result was a blend of Hibbard & Darrin traits (steeply raked V-shaped windshield, flowing pontoon fenders, elongated hood), with a nod to the “fishtail speedster” designed by Gordon Buehrig for coachbuilder Weymann. It was a bold design, but one that Holls and Bilpuch agreed should be built.

The project began in 1995 with a 1932 Lincoln KA, modified by a previous owner for use as a tow truck. With little of the original bodywork remaining, there could be no objection from purists that a salvageable Lincoln was destroyed to build a vision of a car that never was, but perhaps should have been. The custom coachwork was crafted by Marcel Delay of Corona, California, using an ash wood frame to support the car’s aluminum body panels, though a portion of the original car’s hood was retained. As a testament to the shop’s craftsmanship, the boattail upper deck of the speedster was left in polished aluminum, while the rest of the car was painted black by Brian Joseph’s Classic & Exotic Service of Troy, Michigan, which also handled final assembly.

In keeping with Edsel Ford’s love of speed, the Lincoln, now known as the “David Holls Speedster,” received a 12-cylinder Lincoln KB engine instead of a replacement eight-cylinder KA. Rated at 150 horsepower in original trim, the hopped up 448-cu.in. V-12 sports a quartet of two-barrel Stromberg 81 carburetors, which help to raise output to 175 horsepower. Torque goes to the rear wheels via a three-speed manual transmission, and the car rides on an air suspension with power-assisted drum brakes in all four corners.

Completion of the Lincoln Speedster took three and a half years, and the car debuted in time to show at the 1999 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. There, it scored a second-place ribbon in the American Pre-War 1932-1941 class, much to then-owner Bilpuch’s amazement. It was a proud moment for Holls as well, but sadly the designer died in June 2000, just as his Speedster continued its winning ways on the show circuit at Eyes on Design and the Bay Harbor Vintage Car & Boat Festival.

The car has since won accolades at shows from coast to coast, and its current owner has enjoyed the its performance in events like the Copperstate 1000 and the Pebble Beach Motoring Classic. Attesting to an 80+ MPH top speed, the owner was once ticketed behind the wheel of the Lincoln at 72 MPH, a fact that Edsel Ford himself would surely have appreciated.

Grab shots taken at the Pavillions in 2013.

12 Comments
  1. Tom Matano

    Impeccable proportion. Great balance/contrast and refined details.
    I only had a brief moment with Dave when I was at GM Design Staff back in 1974.

  2. Stan Mott

    Ah, Lincoln Model KB Boattail Speedster, beauty is thy name.

  3. It was my good fortune to meet Dave Holls when we were on the Committee for the Concours d’Elegance. We hit it off right from the start and with Dave I think it was that way for anyone.

    When he first showed this car He gave me a walk around of it as he explained details. I was impressed with the design, the flawless execution (which evidenced his close supervision of its building), and in him in for the time he took to relate to me it’s development.

    Sadly, he’s gone now, but he’ll live long in our memories and this car will help keep that memory alive and maybe acquaint those who didn’t get to know him with his work.

    He truly was a car guy with gasoline in his veins. Bravo Dave!

  4. john manoogian II

    Dave was one of my mentors at GMDesign. If you wanted to know about the history of automotive design, Dave knew it. This car embodies Dave’s design idiom. Well done Dave!

  5. DICK RUZZIN

    I worked for Dave Holls several times both here in the USA and in Germany when he was Director of Design at Opel. He was a great man to work for and one of the best designers that ever worked at GM Design. He loved cars of all kinds and had a real sense of history. When I was developing the concept for Eyes On Design I was stuck in not knowing enough to set up a complete list of classes. I was in Cadillac Studio and working for Dave so I asked him for help. I had a list and showed it to him. “Give it to me”, he said, I will be back later. Later in the day he returned with a list of classes that I used for the first show.

    “Don’t tell anyone that I did that or I will be in real trouble”. Dave was heavily involved in the Meadowbrook show and did not want his friends to know that he had helped EOD in any way. But he did. He had a greater allegiance to auto design.

    I only saw the car once. Open the door and on the sill there is a small silver plaque that says: Design by Dave Holls. Or maybe that was on the Connie Buschard Rolls Royce. Dave had great skills in defining the big picture and was exceptional in defining “Sporty Elegance”, especially in the details. Dave told me that when a chassis was purchased to have a special coachbuilder body created it included the radiator and shell as that was part of the powertrain.

    Hopefully somebody will get all three special bodies that Dave designed together, the Lincoln, the Bugatti and the Rolls Royce. Added to that could be the Riviera,several Cadillacs, Chevrolets and Buicks. That would be a great presentation

    DICK RUZZIN

  6. One more thing that I have forgotten to add, and a very important one that says a lot about Dave Holls.

    He never said a thing about his other world of cars. If you found something out you could then drag some information out of him about it. He once told me that he worried about, under Bill Mitchell, that he would be labeled as “Someone copying old cars”. He succeeding at avoiding that accusation, much to his credit.

    DICK RUZZIN

  7. John Sanderson

    The body was built by Marcel and Luc De Ley, of Marcel’s Custom Metal Shaping at 1621 Commerce St. Corona, CA 92880 (951) 371-2290.
    Marcel has pretty much retired, but his son Luc, is continuing their stellar work. They are know for numerous complete body custom builds including Coddinton cars, and many more iconic builds in the last 25 years!

  8. Norm James

    Beautifully executed by Dave. I’m sorry I never had a chance to work with him.

    The last time I saw him was at the ’92 Concourse at Pebble Beach, almost 30 years after I left Styling. I found him on a video I was taking when he walked by–neither Dave or I recognize each other. I later found him identified in other photo literature and made the “connection” to the video.

  9. John Sanderson

    I never had the pleasure of meeting Dave. I worked for Del DeRees, who with him, Dick Teague and Don Sommer, started the iconic Meadowbrook Hall Concours d’Elegance in Rochester Hills Michigan.I got to design the logo-cloisenne’ medallion, used for 37 years.

    As I recall, Connie Bouchard also had a Mercedes 540K coupe built, that caused a big controversy at the time, because that was not how the car came out of the factory. It was a gorgeous car, and I still have the Tom Hale water color of it.

  10. I had the good fortune to work with Dave Holls during my entire stay at GM Styling. The following is an excerpt from my book:

    There were many men and women at GM Styling that I considered really top quality designers. But few were as good as Dave Holls when it came to design and form development. He was a man of infinite good cheer. The kind of person that made you feel you were the most important person in the room. A great leader, he had a natural ability to make friends and followers.

    Backing up his personal and management skills, he had a significant resume of great cars, including the ground breaking Riviera Silver Arrow I xp810. Additionally, his design knowledge was well grounded on the history of automobile design. He knew proportion, line, and surface development (all skills learned from studying the old master builders of custom cars).

    If you wanted to know something about automobile design, you would ask Dave. He loved cars and car designers. He was a natural leader. He understood the difference between art and automobile design as a business activity for General Motors. He was well respected by the Divisions. In my opinion, a prefect candidate for a future VP of Design.

  11. Glen Durmisevich

    IMG_4059.JPG
    Dave was great designer and knowledgeable car guy. Shortly after I started working for him in the late 1970’s I saw a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost Boattail Speedster he designed for Connie Bouchard. He took the detailing beyond what would typically had been done in those days and I’m sure the Lincoln has the same attention. His biggest compliment to me, besides hiring me, was when he acknowledged his approval on a Cord L-29 Boattail Speedster I had designed.

  12. Steve

    Gorgeous design! It’s great to read the comments from people who knew and worked with Dave. It gives me a better understanding of the design. Car guys are great people!

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